Why you need to control your blood glucose levels
All the cells and organs in our body require glucose (sugar) for energy. This comes from the foods that we eat, and when broken down into sugar it is transported around the body through the bloodstream. People living with diabetes are at risk of their blood sugar levels going too high or too low, leading to various health complications in both the long and short term. The body doesn’t respond to insulin properly (or lacks production completely) and as a result it becomes unable to control its blood sugar levels.
According to the NHS, normal blood sugar levels for healthy individuals should be:
People with diabetes should target these blood sugar ranges:
How you can control your blood sugar levels
Controlling your blood sugar is really important. If blood sugars venture too high or too low you can develop symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and blurry vision before becoming even more serious. There are also long term health risks associated with having your blood sugars outside a safe range for extended periods of time such as organ damage or organ failure.
Aside from adjusting your medication, there are many other ways which will help you lower blood sugar levels naturally and maintain control in general. Here are some of the things you should actively look to do for good blood sugar control.
Exercise – Exercise is a great way to improve your insulin sensitivity. Your muscles use up their glycogen stores during exercise which are replenished by glucose from the bloodstream. The more glycogen you use up, the longer your insulin sensitivity is improved after exercise. Even if you don’t have time in your day to dedicate to a workout, try incorporating a walk during your lunch time, take the stairs instead of an elevator, and walk to the station instead of taking a bus. Walking is one of the easiest ways you can naturally lower your blood sugar.
Drink plenty of water – High blood sugar can make you urinate more often, so drinking plenty of water helps to keep you hydrated. Drinking a lot of water also helps you to stay full, so you’re less likely to snack or eat too much during the day. Water is used throughout the entire body – aim to have at least 1.5 – 2 litres of water every day.
Eat regularly – Missing out on meals can cause your blood sugar to spike, or fall too low and cause hypoglycaemia. This is especially true for breakfast, so try to eat at a similar time every day. When you’re fasting the body fuels itself by releasing glucose from the liver. For Type 2 diabetics, this causes a rise in fasting blood sugars. For those taking glucose lowering medication such as injections, skipping or delaying meals can lead to a drop in blood sugar.
Eat healthy carbs (diabetes bars or low GI foods) – Carbs are an essential part of any diet, and you should not avoid them. Get them from low GI foods such as nuts, seeds and vegetables so that they do not cause a blood sugar spike. Avoiding carbs altogether has side effects such as lack of focus and headaches. Why? Because your brain uses carbs as its fuel. Avoiding carbs can also lead to insulin resistance when you do decide to reintroduce carbs into your diet, which isn’t a good thing either. Have carbs during your meals or as a snack (just make sure they don’t come from junk foods). Good sources are any low GI foods and diabetes bars that are low in sugar.
Enjoy green tea – Replace sugary drinks and fruit juices with green tea. It’s a good way to have more water, and it has 0 calories. Studies have shown that green tea can boost your metabolism, and has thermogenic (fat burning) properties that can last for up to 24 hours. Just be sure to brew it the correct way, which is, brewing it for no more than 1 to 3 minutes using hot, but not boiling, water (around 70°C to 80°C or 160°F to 180°F).
Have some cinnamon – Another great source of antioxidants, cinnamon has many health benefits as listed here by Dr Axe. I’m not talking about a lot of cinnamon either. Have as little as half a teaspoon every day and you can still reap its benefits. Add it to your food to give it some flavour.
Have a dash of vinegar – The most popular type of vinegar is apple cider vinegar. Have it as a salad dressing, or a couple of tablespoons in a glass of water. The most renowned benefits of apple cider vinegar are for those who suffer from diabetes. It has been shown to significantly reduce blood sugar after high carb meals and improve insulin sensitivity during meals. Just be sure not to go above 1-2 tablespoons per day, as too much of it can cause unwanted side effects such as eroding tooth enamel.
Get enough sleep – Sleep is really important for us, and not just because we feel more energised and focussed the next day. Not getting a good quality sleep, or not sleeping enough, can lead to many consequences. It can disrupt your hormones leading to increased hunger, higher blood sugar levels, and weight gain. Your immune system is also weakened, leaving you more likely to catch flus and other illnesses. Make sure you get into a good sleeping habit that works for you.
Drinking too much alcohol – If you enjoy drinking you can still have alcohol with diabetes, but in moderation. Most guidelines suggest no more than 2 units for women and 3 units for men per day. But that’s not to say, if you don’t drink all week you can make up for those units over the weekend. Excess consumption can cause liver damage and other issues. It is a toxin after all. Alcohol is also full of calories, so drinking too much can cause weight gain if nothing else. For diabetics there is more to keep in mind. Alcohol does affect your blood sugar levels, and can increase the risk of hypoglycaemia. So definitely don’t drink on an empty stomach, and substitute any sugary mixers for their diet, carb free versions instead. Most importantly, don’t go crazy with the drinks.
Highly - processed foods – Most foods that you find on the shelves of supermarkets have been processed in some way and are generally high in refined sugars. Some are only lightly processed, but most foods have a lot added to them during manufacturing; Foods such as cakes, chocolates, sweets, instant noodles, mass-produced buns and breads, breaded fish and chicken, frozen and ready meals to name a few. They are generally high in both fat and sugar, triggering the dopamine-like effects in the brain that make you want to keep on eating. The high simple sugar content also leads to large spikes, followed by drops, in blood sugar, making you feel hungry and lethargic. On top of that, a recent study has linked eating more highly-processed foods to developing cancer.
Blended smoothies – Recently there has been a boom in the smoothie industry. We are being told that smoothies are a great way to detox, cleanse the liver and lose weight. But is this all just marketing fad? Personally, I think so. Whilst it’s ok to have a smoothie now and again, think of it as an indulgence rather than a meal replacement. There are many sites out there that telling you by replacing one or two meals with a smoothie can help you lose weight, and in simple terms this may hold some value. One smoothie may have 800 calories, compared to 2 meals that are likely to have more in total. But skipping meals isn’t good, and it lowers your body’s metabolism.
When you blend food, you are cutting down the fibre in those foods. The very fibre that helps improve your digestive system and reduces the speed at which your body breaks down sugars. You are giving your body quicker access to the sugars in fruits and vegetables when you blend them, and this will cause spikes in your blood sugar. And by blending you are breaking down the very fibre that keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Stick to eating whole fruit, and avoid the blending fad that is going around. At no time in our human history have we needed to blend food before eating. If that were the case, we would not need our teeth. Eat your fruits and veggies as nature intended.
White bread, pasta and rice – These are all processed foods that are high in carbs and low in fibre. They contain simple sugars which are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels. Instead opt for alternatives that are high in fibre, such as bran or wholegrain. The foods will be less processed and are less likely to cause your blood sugar levels to spike.